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Ixelles plans to make entertainment areas safer for women
The Brussels municipality of Ixelles plans to make its entertainment districts safer for women. In consultation with citizens and women’s groups, the type of action and interventions needed in cafes and clubs will be decided upon and passed on to the proprietors who will have to apply them to make their establishments more women-friendly. The decision follows reports of rapes in two Ixelles bars which led to mayor Christos Doulkeridis (pictured) calling the two owners to account.
A number of testimonies about sexual harassment in the bars Waff and El Café, where staff are accused of drugging young women, has led to the public prosecutor's office conducting an investigation into sexual offences in the entertainment district around the Ixelles cemetery. On social media in recent days, several women have sounded the alarm about this practice, which has reportedly been going on for months. The same method is always mentioned.
While mayor Doulkeridis has not involved himself directly in the intervention, he has summoned the owners of Waff and El Café to the town hall for a meeting at the end of this week to give their version of events in regard to the allegations. Doulkeridis does not rule out that administrative sanctions will be imposed on both establishments before the judicial investigation is finished. Café Waff has already suspended one of its bartenders.
In addition, Doulkeridis is working on a structural plan to make the Ixelles entertainment districts safer. "The stories that are now coming to the surface are totally unacceptable,” he said. “As a municipality, we must act against such an injustice. Women should be able to feel safe in Brussels when they go out or have a drink." He added that he wants to subject the cafes and clubs to a thorough safety analysis from the beginning of 2022.
"We will have this analysis carried out by women or women's organisations," explained Doulkeridis. "They can point out any concerns and they can propose improvements. Afterwards, the municipality, together with the hospitality sector, will look at which concrete interventions are needed and must be carried out to increase safety. The universities are also involved. After dealing with sexual offences against students by taxi drivers, they have knowledge of this."
Doulkeridis could not give concrete examples of what form the interventions in establishments may take. "It's not up to me to make the diagnosis, but the women of Brussels. It is important that they are heard first," said the mayor. The Ixelles cafés will not be obliged to participate. "But this reflection exercise is also in the interest of the hospitality industry. I don't want to target cafes specifically. This is a structural problem that needs to be tackled urgently."
Ixelles hopes to be able to start the analyses in early 2022. "But I don't want to put a rigid timeframe on it,” said the mayor. “We want to tackle this plan seriously and correctly, and not just conjure something out of thin air. If you want to tackle something structural, you have to give it time," added Doulkeridis, who will show his support for the victims on Thursday evening in a march from the cemetery to the police station on Place Fernand Cocq.
Doulkeridis' café plan stems from, among other things, the recommendations of the Ixelles night council, which was founded before the coronavirus crisis. "One of the most important topics of conversation was the place of women in nightlife. Due to the pandemic, that work was halted, but we are now resuming that," said the mayor, who is also thinking of making changes to the public space in the entertainment district around the Ixelles cemetery.